Eighteen-year old Krystal Torres is a newly registered voter, but come Nov. 4, she will be not voting in the presidential election.
“I’m tired of the election,” said the sophomore. “It is overrated and I feel neither [candidate] is qualified.”
But Torres is not the only St. John’s student not voting.
In a poll conducted by the Torch, 933 undergraduate students were asked a series of questions including, “Are you registered to vote?” “Are you planning to vote?” “Who are you voting for?” and “What is the most important issue for you?”
While 685 students polled said they were registered, 248 (roughly one-quarter of student respondents) said that they are not registered.
Government and Politics Professor Diane Heith had her Fall 2007 Public Opinion class conduct a poll asking St. John’s students how much they were paying attention to the election; more than one-third said they were not paying a lot of attention.
“The classic question is, what does voting get me,” Heith said. She explained that “candidates respond to people who participate,” but that in the case of students, if they have never voted before, then politicians will not respond to them, often leaving them to focus on issues more important to older voters, like Medicare and Social Security.
“Students can often say, what does this have to do with me,” she said.
Heith, however, is optimistic about student voter turnout in this election.
“College students across the country are definitely more interested in this election,” Heith said. “A lot of students are active. You see a lot of [political] T-shirts on campus, which indicates a lot of interest.”
Government and Politics Professor Robert Pecorella shared similar sentiments.”This is the most excited, interested, involved and committed I’ve ever seen [students],” he said. One student, freshman Eralis Ventura said that she is voting in the election.”We have the chance to make a difference,” she said.
Another student, sophomore Bridget Barry, said that she is voting because “it is the best way to have a voice.”
Both professors said that a candidate’s personality is an important factor in a student’s decision to choose a candidate to vote for.
“A connection can be very important to people,” Heith said. She added that “if politicians seem uninspiring then it’s not surprising” that young people do not vote for them.
Pecorella said that he thinks more students feel connected with Obama’s personality.He said that students are “focused on the fact that Obama is going to be different than what’s preceded him,” he said. “It’s a generational statement.”
In addition to a candidate’s personality, Heith said that two other issues that college students may weigh heavily this Nov. are the Iraq War and the economic crisis and how it may affect their ability to obtain college loans.
“Parents may not be able to pay for college, [so] they look to the government for help,” she said.
Heith explained that there was actually a big turnout of young voters in the 2004 election, but that it did not seem like it because voter turnout increased overall. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Maryland, 47 percent of 18-24 year-olds voted in the 2004 presidential election, an increase from 36 percent of young voters in 2000.
St. John’s is doing its part to register new voters and make sure they are informed for the upcoming election.
A new initiative called Participate in ’08, which is a collaboration between College Democrats, College Republicans, Student Government, student leaders, faculty and staff began at the beginning of the school year.
Throughout this semester, Participate in ’08 has hosted numerous events, such as a viewing of the presidential debates in Taffner Field House. There were close to 400 students in attendance at the third presidential debate held last week.
“This was an event that myself and other administrators in my department thought would be good for the students,” said Denise DiBartolo, coordinator of Recreational Programs for Student Life. “We all agree on the importance of voting and thought it would be beneficial for us to host something like this for the students to get them interested and involved in the election.
In addition, Participate in ’08 has registered more than seven hundred new voters for New York State.
“Seven hundred new registrations here is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Brian Browne, assistant vice president of Government Relations and executive director of the Manhattan campus.
“If we can get people excited about voting the first time, we can get them to come back again and again.”